China has undergone dramatic economic changes in the twenty years since Mao Zedong's death. After decades of civil war and the end of the Mao era, the arrival of Deng Xiaoping as the new leader of China implied that many changes were to be implemented. The beginning of the reforms and the gradual opening of the economy that started in 1978 has now reached a point of no return. The consumer society, which was then limited because of the promotion of egalitarian living standards, is now booming.
The restructuration of the economy started in 1978, soon after Deng Xiaoping's ascension to power. Deng elaborated a plan for the modernization of the four most important economic sectors. That plan, called the Four Modernizations, greatly affected Chinese people's lives. For 70% of the population living in the countryside, the possibility to grow and sell what they wanted gave them sufficient money to live more comfortably, and for some, to open up small enterprises. The boom in small-scale privately-owned enterprises, and the gradual opening of the country to foreign capital, had a major influence on the life of urban people, leading to a rising standard of living. Where people dreamed before to own a bicycle, they now dream of a TV and DVD set.
All of these changes were comprised in Deng's formula of "socialism with Chinese characteristics". This formula encompasses all the reforms, but also justifies the fact that economic growth hasn't been accompanied by an augmentation of civil rights. Summing up with the fact that the bureaucratic culture is one of corruption, and massive lay-offs in state-owned enterprises, which led to the gradual disintegration of the iron rice bowl concept (meaning permanent life-time employment), the society, especially in urban areas, is on the verge of major social conflict. Growing inequalities between urban and rural areas, and between the prosperous East coast and the interior also fuel the growing anger. China, according to Deng, needs a long-term period of stability so that it can revive its economy properly, and stability comprises both foreign affairs and social peace. This is one of the reasons why the government used repression in 1989, and keeps an eye on the Falun Gong movement.
Jiang Zemin, Deng Xiaoping's successor, will leave his mark on history for having eased China's entry in the World Trade Organization. Under his short reign, since 2002 will mark his retirement from the public scene, China has seen a boom in private industry, accompanied by an influx of foreign capital and creation of numerous joint-ventures. This situation has led to a paradox: in a country with a desperately poor rural sector, urban areas have access to more goods than people actually need, while some other types of goods are in short supply. Some of the goods that are in surplus in cities cannot be transferred to rural areas because rural and urban inhabitants do not have the same needs.
With all these measures, foreign goods have started to be more and more widespread through the country. Nowadays, one can find everything in Beijing as long as one has money to afford it. Foreign products which were available only in the Friendship Store previously are now available in local shopping centers. It is possible to buy all types of foreign goods, from Toshiba televisions to Belgian beers. However, even though foreign goods are now widely available, they haven't become part of the daily life for everyone. The huge proportion of the population living in the countryside cannot afford foreign products, and when there is a cheaper Chinese counterpart will opt for it.
Another reason for the low consumption of foreign products resides in the marketing. The wrappings often contain no information in Chinese, either as regards the name or type of product. Barbie, until very recently, did not have her name translated into Chinese. Another factor concerns advertising, especially on television. Since broadcasting time is quite expensive, a relatively high proportion of the TV ads are for foreign products. I've seen ads for Pedigree Pal with a Chinese family feeding a dog. However, that ad did not take into consideration the specific situation in Beijing, where it is forbidden to keep a dog at home that has a total height of more than 35 centimeters. This regulation applies for all families living inside the fourth ring road, which are highways that encircle the whole city. This ad was clearly not adapted to its potential market, with the dog pictured being much bigger than what is actually authorized.
The use of the Chinese language is crucial to a product's future popularity. Aspirin and Contact brand names have both been translated, and no one uses their English names, even though the pronunciation is very similar. I've also seen a situation where a cab driver argued with us that Citroën was a Chinese brand. Citroën has translated its name in Chinese, and opened a plant in Wuhan. Even if the car has both names, French and Chinese, since a lot of people do not read the Roman alphabet, it will be perceived as of a Chinese origin. Some products will also loose their foreign connotation when a joint-venture is involved. The production and transportation costs will drop, and the product will be offered at an affordable price on the local market, comparable to its Chinese counterpart.
Even if foreign products do not include translations, it is quite popular and fashionable for local products to include some words of English in their advertising. After some time, one notices that a lot of signs using English language actually use Chinglish: English words combined with Chinese grammar. This can lead to some bizarre results. I bought jeans that had a label warning against the possibility of bleeding when being washed. English language has also left its mark in the Chinese language: more and more people will use "OK" and "bye bye" in their conversation, the latter now even has its own Chinese written character. "Hello" and "cool" also have their own characters, and some foreign products, like chocolate and bacon, have been translated according to their pronunciation.
Negotiation is an important part of the consuming act. It seems that everything can be negotiated, from cab bills, computers, buying glasses, to clothes or food. Negotiation will be relevant for everyone: foreigners, neighbors, people living in other cities, etc... Every reason is good for negotiation, from a small defect in the desired good, an unusually high price or simply wishing to try to get a lower price. It is possible to negotiate in shops, or in places where you have contacts, but not possible in the department stores.
This account of Chinese people's consuming habits is written through the eyes of a foreigner, it must be stressed. One might have a totally different insight from a Chinese person's point of view. Being a foreigner in China is an experience, in the sense that it is hard to become part of the society. This is not to suggest that Chinese society is one that is hard to be accepted in, for that is a misleading stereotype. It is rather to underline the fact that the way the system actually is, it is normal that integration difficulties should arise.
The first element that draws a line between foreigners and Chinese is the fact that there are some residential zones where foreigners can live and where Chinese people live. Usually, the apartments for foreigners are nicer than their Chinese counterparts: they have a bathroom inside the apartment with separate toilet and shower, the heating system is not controlled by the district, the average size of the rooms is bigger, and there is often a security guard at the entrance of the building. They are also more expensive. This separation between Chinese and foreigners also holds with respect to tourists. Hotels need a special license to greet foreigners, which renders the use of an up-to-date travel guide essential.
Another element is the idea that Chinese people have of foreigners. Since foreigners all have money, overpricing goods sold to tourists was for a long time official policy. Now the train and plane ticket surcharges have disappeared, but it does happen often on the street that someone will ask more for a product than what the real price is. Chinese generally see foreigners as wealthy persons who will stay in their residential compounds, and hang out in areas next to the embassies, where bars and restaurants with waiters that speak English are located. And even though there are a lot of students, or persons participating in internships, the expatriates that permanently live in Beijing mostly correspond to that description.
The third and last element to be aware of is that, even foreign students have money compared to the average urban worker, not to speak of the people that live in the countryside. Of course, the cost of living is less for Chinese as regards housing, food and tuition fees. But China is still cheap for a foreigner.
The following is a resume of several conversations about specific products that I had with different people in Beijing while I was there. Even though there were a lot of different age groups, the results tend to be the same. This can be explained by different factors. Sociologists have already written about the difficulty of the interview method for a research in China. Their argument was based on the fact that usually Chinese will try to guess what they think you want to hear, and answer based on that impression. I thought I would get to some interesting answers interviewing friends, thinking that they would feel at ease because I was their friend. But I basically had the same answers as I had from others. The fact that I had a recorder, since the interviews were almost always conducted in Chinese, seemed to intimidate some people too. All in all, this is only a general account of what the situation of consumption of foreign goods is now in Beijing.
Western drinks enjoy an ever increasing recognition and acceptance in the country. With the introduction first of soft drinks like Coca Cola, Sprite and Fanta, more and more companies decided to invest in that huge market. A drink enjoying more and more recognition over the past five years is coffee. Thanks to Nescafe, coffee is now widely available through the whole country, even more accessible than locally produced coffee, for example in regions like Yunnan. I've only seen Nescafe 1+2 (sugar and milk), and Nescafe was introducing various products like cappuccino, vanilla coffee and chu chai coffee, which is a mix between green tea and coffee. Coffee is available everywhere, from supermarkets to local corner shops. The format is also adapted to low income budgets, so that one can buy only a pouch at cornershops.
Nescafe being the first player on the Chinese market for instant coffee, and until recently the only one (Maxwell House appeared in the supermarkets, but not as obvious as Nescafe, and Chinese companies have also started to produce instant coffee), it gained gradual recognition. The marketing strategy uses both Westerners and Chinese for the promotion of the coffee. However, it will not be a Benetton type ad: ads with Westerners are with Westerners only, and ads with Chinese are with Chinese only. These ads present persons enjoying a good cup of coffee, even though people will usually drink coffee for its effect as a stimulant.
The major impact with Nescafe being the only player for a while on the Chinese market is that people got used to the taste of Nescafe, and refer it as the taste of real coffee. The concrete consequence is that when Starbuck's started to open branches in Beijing, they meet some interest from locals, but this interest can change rapidly since the Starbuck coffee is made from real beans and is stronger than instant coffee. Still, people do not enjoy it as much since they say that it keeps them from sleeping, and also that the taste is not as good as Nescafe.
Even though some people think this way, it did not keep Starbuck's from opening 20 branches in Beijing alone. One of the reasons for this success is that they played it on the safe side: they opened their branches in places next to where foreigners live or work. Also, Starbuck's vehicles a cool image with every coffeeshop design: the huge couches and big chairs are inviting for relaxation. It is not in the local habits to go to a public space and relax, or have a chat with friends that can last for hours. Chinese usually meet at restaurants, eat there, and when they're done, they leave and go back home. I once invited a person whom I'd never met personally before to a local coffeeshop. It was a Western social reflex, and after I hung up the phone, I realized that maybe the person would not be comfortable to meet me in those circumstances. Since it was too late to call back, I met him there. After an hour, he started to ask me questions like if I had homework or other things planned for today. I said yes, but I would do that later in the evening. We kept talking, and after another hour, he said that maybe I should get back to my homework. I realized that it has been a very unusual experience for him when we got out and he said that he'd never been to a place like that before.
With the gradual opening in recent years to foreign consumption goods, there have been a lot of changes on the alcohol market. More and more different products are available, and with the word spreading around, more and more people want to try these products. However, in everything related to food or alcohol, the first experience will not be significant. It is rare that a Chinese person enjoys a Big Mac or a glass of whiskey the first time, the taste being very different from what they're used to. They say that it usually takes them a couple of times before they get used to it and start to enjoy it. I've heard also how peer pressure would have an influence towards encouraging the future experiences.
Beer is by far the most popular alcohol in the country. Available everywhere at every time of the day, its mainly consumed in restaurants and bars. Every region brews its own beer, while the Qingdao beer is available all over the country, if for a slightly higher price. The Qingdao is the only brewery that was opened by foreigners, when Germans occupied the Shandong peninsula at the beginning of the 20th century. Foreign beers are more and more available, and some brands like Budweiser and Carlsberg have won some recognition. Since the price is slightly higher than local beers, they will more likely be consumed for special occasions or occasions where the host wants to display some wealth, for example business dinners.
Baijiu, or rice wine with an alcohol degree of 56%, follows in the Beijingers' preferences. It is commonly drunk by men in gatherings in restaurants. They will usually order beer, for example ten or twelve bottles (which is a lot when aware of the fact that a bottle is 660 ml), and one or two bottles of baijiu of 300 ml. Since to be a good host means that you provide enough food and drinks for everyone, and being a good guest means that you enjoy everything your host provides, very often people will leave the restaurant with redder cheeks than when they came in.
Foreign spirits are available in bars, but usually at a price that encourages people to stick to beer. There is an increasing curiosity towards these products, and there might be big changes in the consumption habits in years to come.
Wine seems to enjoy a special status, being the alcohol for celebrations, and also the beverage most suited to women. Asking what would be their preference, women would say that they prefer wine. It is also what will be served for birthdays, and the Chinese New Year. Both red and white wine are produced in China. Both are very sweet compared to Western wine. When locals try foreign wine, they often find that it tastes bitter, and it will usually not be a conclusive experience. Several times are needed before it gets to be enjoyable, a process that is also true with foreigners towards Chinese wine.
With the rhythm of life accelerating (especially in urban areas), eating habits started to change in the past years. People need food rapidly, and take less care and time to prepare it themselves. This change can be seen in several meals, from breakfast to dinner.
Even though in restaurants or cafeterias it is still possible to find the typical Chinese breakfast, which is formed of zhou, some rice bouillie, doujiang, warm soy milk, youjiaor, which are fried dough strips and baozis, steamed buns usually filled with pork, less people will prepare it at home. Some will buy these elements at a street stall, but more and more people will eat the Western breakfast, which is seen as nourishing and short in preparation time. They will eat cereals and (sweet) bread. In other meals, the use of frozen elements is more and more adopted. The frozen items counters in supermarkets are filled with frozen baozis and jiaozis (Chinese raviolis) every kind imaginable. It is also possible to buy already sliced fruits and vegetables, or sometimes complete meals ready to cook.
This tendency towards quick gustation is well illustrated by the successful implantation of the Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's restaurant chains. Even though both are fast food chains, they are not perceived the same way. Kentucky has a more local taste, fried chicken resembling more Chinese food than a Big Mac. It is usually always packed with people, and some stores have two or three floors. It adapted its food to local taste with adding a soup to the usual meal, which is an important component of the Chinese meal.
McDonald's also made two main adaptations to its meal with adding a spicy McChicken to its menu, and replacing the blueberry turnover by the red bean turnover. Red bean is widely used in pastries or deserts, and also in baozis, replacing the usual pork filling. There's nothing special about it- it is mashed red beans with a little sugar, but it is very popular as a desert.
The hamburger, even though very different from local food made its way in local habits. It's now more and more used as breakfast, which is not very surprising when the thing it ressembles the most in Chinese food is the baozis, a breakfast element. It is now possible to buy in almost every corner shop hamburgers ready to eat, after being heated for a short time in the microwave. It is not rare to see Chinese people, especially youngsters, having a hamburger as breakfast while walking on the street in the morning. This tendency is also reinforced by McDonald's itself: while it opens as early as 7:00 in the morning, it doesn't serve the breakfast menu. So one can walk in at 7:00 and order a trio.
Teenagers, College and University students will enjoy McDonald's as a social space. It is seen as a place where they can sit and talk with friends. Some mentioned that they bring homework or books to read. It is less crowded than cafeterias, or dorms. I was even told by one student that he would invite a pretty girl there for a rendez-vous. The generalization of these activities led the restaurants to a new measure: there are now announcements asking for people to leave their place clean when they leave the restaurant, a polite way to ask people to leave when finished eating.
Older generations do not like the taste of McDonald's, which they describe as bland, all the products tasting the same. However, they will stop there when in an area that they are less familiar with at meal time. I was told several times that they've heard about the hygiene measures at McDonald's, which they trust more than the local Chinese restaurant that they've never visited before. Grandparents will often bring their grandchildren there, but not eat themselves. They prefer to stop at a Chinese restaurant on the way back.
Foreigners are still an important part of their clientele, they have next to each cash station a cardboard with pictures of every product, but without prices. One can compose its own menu. And, as a foreigner, you have to like Coke: I ordered trios a couple of times, and they never asked me what I wanted to drink, giving me my drink, filled with Coke.
Chinese like a lot of new technologies, especially in the communications area. Pagers were a hit a couple of years ago, and now almost every teenager has one. Foreign brands were sold first, but Chinese brands developed quickly, and now their quality is considered to be the same as the foreign brands.
The cellular phone dissemination followed shortly after. Now a status symbol, one will usually buy the newest and smallest model available in order to look fashionable. Owning a big cell phone is seen as being technologically retarded for men, and women will prefer the small ones because they are cuter. The Nokia 8210 was one the most popular models on the market when I was there. Foreign brands are the most popular brands there, and the two Chinese brands, Haier and Panda are no serious competition for now, since people consider foreign brands' quality is better, and the design of these two brands is not as developed as the former.
The mobile phones in China tend to be more expensive than in North America. You first have to buy the phone, regular prices for a model not considered as outdated ranging from 250-300$ and more. Then, you have to buy the phone number. The prices for phone numbers depend of how easy it is to remember, whether or not it contains lucky numbers, and if it has bad luck numbers, the price drops. After, the person has to decide which payment mode she will use. She can either have a card, and add money on it regularly, or have the bill sent to her home. The rates are cheaper with the second system, but the person has a monthly flat fare of ten dollars that she has to pay even if she doesn't receive/make any phone calls. The person gets billed for every call she does, and for every call she receives. Even with all these fees summing up quickly, owning a mobile is something everyone either desire or project to buy. University students all consider that they will have to buy one at the end of their degree while searching for a job, and a lot of workers consider they need it for work or to keep contact with their families.
People will attribute different functions to their pagers and mobiles. When they bought their mobile phones, they kept their pagers, since they paid for it, they don't see why they would throw them away. I was told that the mobile phone is convenient for calling people, and the pager would complete the mobile's use because it is opened 24 hours a day, without any need for recharging. It is then possible to reach the person at anytime of the day or night.
Another technology widely adopted is the internet. More and more people own personal computers, but it is usually something more common for students. Internet cafes have sprung up everywhere in China, and are almost always full. The rates are affordable, usually around 1$ an hour. People will use internet mainly for emailing, chatting and playing games. Internet is especially popular with teenagers and youngsters, and some of them have seen major results on their studies. This phenomenon has alarmed parents and teachers, with the result that shortly before I left, there has been a moratorium on the opening of new internet cafes for the three months period it would take to cense all the existing cafes and shutting down the illegal ones.
The chat rooms are one of the places where one can freely express oneself and are immensely popular. Even though the internet is controlled by the government, officially to avoid people to surf on pornographic websites, it is also to avoid people from going on separatist websites such as the ones for the Tibetan movement or the Uighur independence movement.
Cosmetics are a relatively new consumption item, more and more used by the women of younger generations. Interviewing women of older generations, I was told several times that they never used make-up in their lives. I assumed that it would have been seen as "bourgeois", and counter-revolutionary. Many women do not use make-up because they consider that natural skin and face is more beautiful than with make-up. But when there is an income increase, more and more women use make-up, and a lot of university students say that they will start to use it as soon as they find a job after graduation.
Make-up in China is used to create or accentuate features. Usually, women will have red cheeks with a bright red mouth. They will have black painted eyebrows. Stencils are on sale in stores, it is possible to change the thickness or shape of the eyebrows on a daily basis. The result to Western eyes is that the person wears too much make-up, and looks very common to Western eyes. Fortunately, more and more women use make-up on a more discrete basis.
Chinese cosmetics are not popular among young women. As soon as one can afford to buy foreign cosmetics, she will switch to foreign brands, which are believed to be of a better quality. I heard numerous stories about how Chinese cosmetics have disastrous long-term effects on your skin. The regular explanation is that since Chinese cosmetics are relatively new, they did not have the evolution that foreign cosmetics had through experience, so the quality cannot be that good. I was told that by friends, but there seems to be a change in that perception with Yue-Sai's cosmetics which use the best Western technology together with Asian ingredients. Her alliance with Coty made her brand the first on the Chinese market.
Cosmetics are usually bought outside of the country due to their prohibitive price in China. Since they are heavily taxed, cosmetics are very expensive. When one goes abroad, he will bring back cosmetics as gifts for his friends, or his/her friends will make a list of what they want. The most organized ones even go to their preferred brand's website and select the products they want to have. Cosmetics also fill an important function: they serve as gifts, and considering their price on the local market, they are a popular and valuable gift. I was told that it is also well-seen at weddings to offer cosmetics sets, preferably with a lot of different products together.
A very popular product type in China, and generally speaking in Asia, is skin whiteners.. A lot of foreign brands will adapt their products to have some in their line. All the women that I asked how they saw these products told me that they think that their skin color is OK and that they do not need this type of products. After reflexion, I came to the conclusion that most women that use these products could be these women, but that didn't want to admit it, and women working in joint-ventures, since they are more aware of fashion and of the impression they project than the average Chinese girl. These products derive from the traditional criterions of beauty, where a woman is seen as beautiful if she has a clear complexion, especially in the case of models.
There seems to be two different type of products considered as cosmetics, what we call cosmetics like lipstick, mascara, blush and others, and the second type is lotion. The difference between the two types is that with one you add up color, and with the second one you don't change your skin color. I was surprised to see that when I would ask whether the interviewee was using or not cosmetics, they would reply hesitantly, "wait, cosmetics or skin lotion?" Skin lotion is very popular among all age groups, men and women. This can be attributed to the extremely dry Beijing climate, which forces almost everyone to use lotion at least for the winter. Opinions were divided about best brands. A lot of people use Vaseline, which is more expensive than here, or Babao, a Chinese lotion brand. The second one is a lot cheaper than the first, and the quality is generally considered as being the same as foreign brands. Babao advertises a lot on TV and on the street, and the ads will include all age groups at once, which is a major marketing factor in the family-oriented China.
Avon is one of the numerous foreign companies established in China. Since door-to-door sale is forbidden across the country, they have counters in big shopping malls next to Maybelline, Shisheido and Revlon. Before I left I started to notice Avon stores across the city, selling only Avon products. They would market as "THE company for women" in English on their signs outside of the store. The Avon products will probably gain more popularity in the following years. Their products are marketed in Chinese, and not only in English with little Chinese stickers on it so that one can have a chance to know what they're buying, and they're also distributing catalogues with their products like Avon does here. They also sponsor beauty contests, and try to get as much visibility as they can.
Barbie was introduced in China in October 1999. Even though the doll is immensely popular in other regions of the world, she isn't the doll reference in China. There is no tradition of doll playing for Chinese girls. One wandering in a toy store will find huge quantities of stuffed animals, usually cartoon characters such as Winnie the Pooh, but the articulated dolls are rare. The price, associated to the absence of a marketing campaign for locals also contribute to this low popularity. There is nothing written in Chinese on the boxes (apart from the security device), and there are even some Barbies from Japan mixed with the American Barbie. It is possible to find almost every type of Barbie in the stores that display them, including the collectable items. Ken is quite rare, but Kelly, Barbie's little sister is widely sold and seems to be a popular item. It would be interesting to know why there are so few Ken models: it could be that it seems awkward to play with a male doll, or simply that the imports are "morally-controlled".
With the introduction of Yue-Sai, Barbie started to have more competition in the articulated dolls market. The name Barbie was finally phonetically translated, and now there seems to be more Barbie products outside of Barbie stores, for example, snacks in supermarkets with the Barbie logo marketed for kids with special bonuses inside the wrappings.
Launched by the famous Yue-Sai Kan, the cosmetics queen of China, the Yue-Sai doll has been designed to fill a lack of Asian dolls that would teach Asian girls that it's not only the blond hair blue eyes standard that should be beauty criterions. The whole adventure started when Yue-Sai's neighbor in New York asked for an Asian doll for her daughter. After searching for a while, she faced the truth: there aren't such dolls in China. Even the dolls with the different Chinese minorities costumes are with Western features. So she decided to create her own.
The Yue-Sai doll was officially launched at the end of November 2000. With the number of dolls and costumes expanding, it is getting more and more popular. There is even one cartoon presenting Yue-Sai, friends and family. The accessories are still few, mainly furniture to fill the Yue-Sai house, and up to the latest news, she doesn't has any doll relatives, friends or boyfriend. Being in the stores a couple of times, I heard numerous comments about how Yue-Sai was pretty and how good-looking she is, which is something I never heard next to the Barbie stalls. I also watched a couple of little girls, which would stop at every doll and comment them before their parents would drag them away, scared that they would empty their wallets.
Yue-Sai is definitely a product designed for the growing middle class one child family. There are different types of dolls, the cheapest one costs around 12 dollars without accessories. The second type is the one with a couple of accessories that costs around 25 to 30 dollars and the collector item for more than 60 dollars. The first and second types are by far the most popular. The box presentation is nicely done, with the name of the doll both in English and Chinese.
Even though the doll is said to be designed to improve little Asian girls feeling towards their image, when one has a closer look to and Yue-Sai doll he can realize that she indeed looks a lot like Barbie. She has a clear complexion, which is a Chinese traditional beauty standard, black hair and dark eyes. Apart from that, she has exactly the same measurements as the Barbie except for the waist which is slightly thicker. The feet have exactly the same position, made to wear high-heel shoes. The other main difference is the arm position, Barbie's arms being folded so that she can hold things.
A major difference between Barbie and Yue-Sai is that even though the real Yue-Sai did not want to create a "vacuous, empty-headed personality" (Yue-Sai WaWa launch brochure), the dolls do not seem to have much by way of distinct personalities, There have been numerous professional Barbies, but no professional Yue-Sai. Instead, you get Yue-Sai in Spain, Winter Princess, Purple Princess, Gold Princess, Red Princess, the Dream Bride, Peony Princess, to name but a few. She is said to be a sixteen year old girl, but definitely looks older than the average sixteen year old Chinese girl.
I had a funny experience
at a store when buying one of these dolls. I was looking for one model
that I could fit in my luggage, and looking at one doll after the other,
until I realized that my problem wasn't my luggage's size but that I
couldn't find one that would look "Chinese" enough. I finally
found a model, the Chinese girl, but saw it only once: it is so popular
that you need to order it in advance.
The preceding pages have documented some of the recent changes in Chinese people's lives as consumers. The eating and drinking habits have seen major changes in the past years, not to speak of the communications technologies and their different uses. The Chinese market is becoming increasingly open, but if these trends can be seen in Beijing, different ones might be observed in other urban areas, for example Shanghai or Guangzhou.
Still, the open acceptance of foreign goods can be seen through the abundance of fake goods everywhere. From fake Gap shirts to DVD's, it is possible to buy fake goods everywhere. And, apart from shopping in huge shopping centers that cater mainly to foreigners, it is usually what you get. These are easily recognizable, with the quality being a lot cheaper than the real thing. I was told once that even in some of the shopping centers that I would have thought you could buy the real brands, there would be fake products that you pay the real brand's price. So, with every place potentially selling fake goods, everyone prefers to pay the cheaper price.
China's acceptance in the WTO will certainly bring enormous social and economic changes. Discussing this with several persons, they all had a different opinion about the potential effects: one said that the car industry would crumble, the other one that it would be the agricultural sector, another one said that the agricultural sector would be fine. However, all of them seemed to agree on one point, that the Olympics would change the Beijing face, and bring some long-time needed changes, especially in the transportations infrastructures. For those changes, they all trusted more this international event more than an eventual signature on an international trade deal. And they're probably right.